January 22, 1998, Fayette, MO: A Missouri judge sentenced an adolescent first time offender to ten years in state prison after finding him guilty of selling $20 of marijuana within 2,000 feet of the Central Methodist College. State law classifies the offense as a Class A Felony that carries a sentencing range of ten years to life.
Billy Polson, 17, helped Alex Martinez acquire 3.4 grams of marijuana from students at the Missouri college campus. Martinez -- who dated Polson's sister at the time -- later revealed that he was working undercover for the Boonville Police Department. He also admitted purchasing malt liquor for the defendant shortly before Polson agreed to sell him marijuana.
Missouri attorney and NORML board member Dan Viets -- who represented Polson -- called the felony conviction "horribly unfair."
"I told the judge that if he wanted to help Polson get along with his life, then giving him a felony conviction record was the worst thing he could do," Viets said. He explained that the judge had the option of placing Polson on probation without a conviction. Viets also said that the prosecutor in the case, Greg Robinson, could have charged Polson with a lesser offense to avoid the excessive sentence. Viets said that Robinson wished to make an example out of Polson before the upcoming elections.
Attorney Tanya Kangas, Director of Litigation for The NORML Foundation, questioned why law enforcement would use its limited resources to target someone like Polson. "Alex Martinez was a reserve officer with the Boonville Police Department," she explained. "He was paid to become intimate with a young woman to gain the trust of her younger brother. The police department paid Alex to encourage a minor to drink alcohol. The department paid Alex to arrange a transaction close to the college to increase Bill's sentence under a law designed to protect elementary school children from drug dealers. Except here in this case, the law served to incarcerate a kid who is younger than the attendees of the nearby school. Since when is this the proper role of law enforcement?"
Polson is presently serving his ten year sentence in a Missouri Department of Corrections bootcamp facility. The judge has the option of placing Polson on probation within 120 days.
For more information, please contact either Tanya Kangas of the NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or Dan Viets of The NORML Legal Committee @ (573) 443-6866.